Language is the foundation for communication and learning throughout our lives. When we nurture language development in newborns and infants, we are helping them learn about the world around them and how to communicate with those in it. If you're having a flashback to your boring language arts workbook from seventh grade, don't worry. Helping your infant learn language is a lot more fun.
If your infant has difficulty hearing, it will be that much harder for him to learn language. Hearing loss is the most common congenital defect in the United States, reports the American Academy of Pediatrics. Your newborn's hearing should be screened before he goes home from the hospital, but you'll need to continue checking your baby's ability to hear and keep on top of ear infections, says the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association.
Understanding language, also known as receptive language, is a key part of language development. Parents can nurture their newborn's receptive language by talking to them while they are doing things, suggests the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. As babies grow, parents should also discuss places they are going, what will happen next, what colors things are and what sounds animals make. The Ohio State University Extension encourages parents to hold babies on their laps while talking about pictures in books and magazines. The goal is to have infants associate words with the things they signify.
Talking is not something that most infants are ready to do, of course. But that doesn't mean they aren't developing their expressive language or that parents can't help them. The most important activity here is to reinforce your baby's attempts at communication. Focus on your baby when he is babbling and repeat his sounds and facial expressions, says the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Your little one will also benefit if you teach him to imitate actions like waving bye-bye and clapping.
Literacy development is another component of language development. Of course you're not teaching your infant to read, but you can lay the groundwork for future reading success. Reading to your infant, even if it's only for a few minutes a day, is crucial to early literacy, says the advocacy group Zero to Three. They recommend letting babies handle books, pointing to the words as you read, creating different voices for the story characters, letting the child turn the pages and relating the story to your child's real life.